How digital can bridge the divide between the built and natural environments

We urgently need to change the way we develop the built environment to work within the limits of the natural environment, and to understand the impact. Kirsten Lamb, CDBB

The recently published report, Modelling across the built and natural environment interface, details how sharing models across interdisciplinary silos provides a valuable opportunity to address some of the world’s most pressing problems and priorities.

The report, which was enabled by the Construction Innovation Hub, draws on the results of a workshop that brought together a dozen experts from the built and natural environment modelling communities (the National Digital Twin programme and the Landscape Decisions programme respectively) to discuss what opportunities could arise from better integration of digital models across this sectoral divide.

Here, report author and Centre for Digital Built Britain digital knowledge communications manager Kirsten Lamb reveals the key actions.

We urgently need to change the way we develop the built environment to work within the limits of the natural environment, and to understand the impact of land use decisions on communities.

We need to take a systems-based approach to manage our built and natural systems. The opportunity that integrated modelling creates is enormous: to better understand and develop the built and natural environments together in ways that support the wellbeing of people and the planet for the long-term.

Shared, curated, right-time information could enable decision-makers to better manage the trade-offs, identify the risks and impacts of decisions, and create beneficial outcomes. Such an understanding would underpin our ability to meet important environmental targets such as Net Zero carbon emissions, and the government’s commitment to embedding support for biodiversity in its economic decisions as a response to the Dasgupta Review. Collecting, sharing and managing information thoughtfully across the built and natural environment disciplines is critical to achieving these goals.

However, creating the systems, processes and frameworks to enable this would involve the retooling and reconfiguration of existing practices and disciplinary silos, requiring time, attention and cooperation that could be managed through a dedicated programme.

According to the experts who attended the workshop, the UK’s research, industry and policy bodies must focus on the following priorities for integrating models of the built and natural environment:

  • Make interconnected models  visible early in the decision process to stakeholders to drive better decisions.
  • Bring communities together around a shared vision in order to frame better questions, as the basis for model integration.
  • Develop a common approach/platform to enable better data and model sharing across disciplines, joined by shared architectures, and common standards for security and quality.
  • Establish and share best practice at all scales, to support better local, regional and national decision-making.

These priorities are interdependent. They address cultural as well as technical barriers to model integration faced by both disciplines. However, the need is urgent, and by coming together now these disciplines may be able to combine their skills to accelerate the development of better decision processes and tools, leading to better outcomes for people and the planet.

Through expert workshops, peer networks and publicising of good practice, a central programme focused on integrating built and natural environment modelling would accelerate the development of tools and processes that use these models to make better decisions for the future of the UK.

The National Digital Twin and Landscape Decisions programmes are two key stakeholders in this process, and future collaboration between them could be mutually beneficial for achieving key government targets.

Download the report: https://www.cdbb.cam.ac.uk/files/workshop_report_290521v2.pdf

Story for BIM+? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in Opinion